It’s five years this month since the Eurostar began its run from the renovated St. Pancras train station. The station remains a tour-de-force of a hub. This may be the only train station in the UK that feels truly European, and not only because it connects to the European train grid. St. Pancras is densely useable and grand, with a real buzz – like a train station of yesteryear, the sort of place you might have read about as a child. Flickr user nan palmero captures some of the station’s buzz in the above image.
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[Image: nan palmero | Flickr]
On my way through St. Pancras international station in London
this past weekend, I grabbed a smoothie at Marks and Spencer while I was waiting for my train. Tired and dehydrated from travel, I made pretty short business of the drink then proceeded to seek out a waste receptacle to drop my bottle in. Turns out though, there are none. I must have walked around in circles, in and out of the station for twenty minutes looking for a place to drop the bottle before I gave up, walked into a restaurant and dropped it off there. I was curious why a public place wouldn’t have any trash cans.
Apparently, this is for a reason. As I’m told, the British had issues with the Irish Republican Army putting bombs in the receptacles and the bins turning into shrapnel. So as a safety precaution, they were removed.
Preventative measures like this make me leery. On one hand I suppose it’s best to remove as many opportunities to place a bomb in a public place as possible, but is it really necessary to take out all the trash cans? Can’t the Brits just use thin, translucent bags like the French do?
How well can we prepare ourselves for another bombing? Will we next pad all of our buildings with foam, require everyone to wear helmets and walk in our socks? How far is too far?
At some point, we as Westerners are going to have to accept that there is some inherent risk in traveling. Be this a bee sting, malaria or a terrorist bombing we have to come to terms with the fact that going out into the world is not as safe as staying at home and in bed. Until we and our governments can accept that, we’re doomed to paranoia, inconvenience and countless tax dollars for overprotective measures.
I must admit, I love travelling by rail. It just seems so much more glamorous than travelling by bus. I love it so much that even when I took a rickety, crowded, overnight train from Surat Thani to Bangkok, I reveled in every bumpy moment. My love of rail, I suspect, is a direct result of the fact that I never take real trains except when travelling. Here in Western Canada, travel by rail is almost non-existent, unless you’re wealthy.
But for people who take trains frequently, it might no seem so romantic as I make it out to be. That’s why British Rail is investing so much money into renovating their stations, according to this article. St. Pancras station in London, for instance, just got a $1.6 Billion facelift, designed to make it a deluxe state-of-the-art building, which acts not only as a train depot but also as a dining and shopping destination. There’s even a 300-foot champagne bar that overlooks the platform and a clock that’s an exact replica of the stations original clock. What’s more, St. Pancras is set to become to main terminal for trains between Paris and London.
I, for one, would love to see train travel become more glamorous, but I’d also like it to stay affordable, if that’s possible.
For those of you fellow train lovers, here’s a bit of news. The awesome London-to-Paris Chunnel train, the Eurostar, is moving next year from its home at Waterloo station to the St. Pancras station.
This train is nothing to sneeze at: central London to central Paris in under 3 hours, in quiet, smooth high-speed (186 mph max speed!) luxury, through the Chunnel, for as little as 29.50 pounds ($58USD).
Apparently, the tracks to Waterloo aren’t modern enough to handle better speeds, severely slowing the train as it rolls into London, so they’re moving the terminus to another station, northwest of London.
In November next year, renovations to London’s St. Pancras station will be complete, allowing eight trains to sit side-by-side in a modern new station. Trip time will drop by a half hour or more. And the St. Pancras/Kings Cross station is pretty centrally located, and on the Circle Line Tube.
Some folks aren’t too happy, though. After all, Waterloo is placed well for those south of the center, and those working at Parliament.